Made in Migration: Helping displaced people tell their stories through music

A group of Music Composition for Film and TV students have composed the music for a virtual exhibition exploring material culture, memory and forced displacement. 

Migration is a topic we hear a lot about in the media. All too often though, the narratives that shape how we think about migrants are politicised and depersonalised. Rarely do we hear about the experiences of displaced people from the displaced people themselves. 

‘Made in Migration’, a new virtual exhibition created by a collective of displaced people, mixed-media artists and academics seeks to change this. Co-created over the course of a year, the exhibition tells the stories of refugees and asylum seekers through objects and visual culture that have formed part of their journeys.

Made in migration artefact: Hassan handmade prayer book

Originally envisioned as a public archaeology exhibition, ‘Made in Migration’ had to be adapted for a digital platform following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This changed everything,” said Dr Rachael Kiddey, one of the academics involved in organising the exhibition. 

“You're talking about archaeology here, you're talking about material things. And suddenly we couldn't bring those things together. So instead we decided to introduce mixed media approaches into the exhibition, to help reflect on everything from where these people stayed and the different parts of their journeys to the objects they brought with them. And instead of showing those objects in a traditional museum way, we decided to introduce everything from poetry and photography to audio interviews and film.

Made in Migration exhibition'Made in Migration' was adapted for online audiences following the outbreak of COVID-19

“In doing so, I suppose the real aim of the project was to demonstrate the diversity that exists amongst migrant people and the variety of skills they have. We wanted to show that migrants are not victims who are going to be a burden on Western society. Actually, they’re people who bring skills and experiences and are innovators in many ways.”

To help bring the works within the exhibition to life, 2nd Year Music for Film and TV students from dBs Institute were brought in to develop a series of compositions. Through ongoing conversation and close collaboration, dBs students worked with the displaced people involved to create pieces of music that authentically represented aspects of their cultural and ethnic identities. 

“So the students came to the project with their own ideas, skills and preferences,” Rachael said, “but then, by working with people from other countries, who introduced them to different beats or rhythms or the just different ideas about music, they were able to create something entirely unique.”

“In some ways, the exercise became, let me tell you about the music from where I'm from and play you some, and then you feel inspired. Then whatever music the students produced would reflect this back. So the music you hear in the exhibition is almost like impressions of Syrian or Eritrean music.”

A poem from the Made in Migration exhibition by Feruz Weldemicheal featuring music by student Emma Abrams

Louis Marcell, one of the Music composition students who work on the project said: “Our part was to create music that could have been created by the displaced people themselves. So I was using instruments that could be could be used by somebody on their iPhone, whilst my partner was using a handheld tape recorder to record sounds for our composition. I also used this very interesting saxophone instrument that I modified to sound like a Mijwiz, which is a traditional middle eastern instrument.”

Ethan Harper, another student who worked on the music for Made in Migration added: “I think this was one of the most interesting projects any of us have ever worked on. It’s nice to have a project which is different from the standard film scoring we do. Also, it felt more important because it's the kind of stuff that matters in the world. When you're working on the music for a short film, of course, you know, it's important, but when you're working on this kind of thing, which involves very human stories and real people, it just feels that much more important to get it right.”

Made in migration collective

Some members of the Made in Migration Collective: Anoosh, Gunel, Dufla and Feruz

Reflecting on the impact of the compositions within Made in Migration, Owain Astles, one of the visual artists working on the project said: “Adding music to the exhibition kind of brings you into it a lot more. It brings you into the emotion and makes the whole thing more immersive. Going through the exhibition online and having music there adds texture to the experience. Having music literally chosen and curated by the displaced people themselves gives you more of a sense of who they are as individuals.”

“The music really sets the tone,” Rachael added. “It unifies these very diverse elements and provides a thread that brings the whole thing together.”

‘Made in Migration’ is online now. Visit the virtual exhibition

If you enjoy the exhibition, please consider donating to either of its Crowdfunder campaigns in support of a Syrian family facing homelessness in Greece and The Black Trowel Collective, a mutual aid project for anarchist archaeology students.

Want the opportunity to work on diverse and meaningful composition briefs like this one? Then our BA Music Composition for Film and TV might be for you.

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